The city is congested now and there is no grazing ground for these pets. The thought of overcrowding makes Sultan sad.
The elegiac description of the gates of Jhelum has come of age with the piercing pedestrian gaze, a lookout post and the lover’s lost map.
A hangout stretch for scores, the bund near iconic Zero Bridge has come to house a pet routine.
A wanderer who used to spend months in the meditative Nigeen Lake now lives here with his flock of sheep.
In the searing spring of Kashmir, sexagenarian Mohammad Sultan comes out of his houseboat—sporting a maroon sweater, brown pants and a cap.
The elder walks gingerly, placing his left hand on his knees. Just some steps away, three sheep, one tied to a yellow nylon rope, stopped eating the fresh green grass after spotting their caretaker.
Giving them a gentle look, Sultan picks up an old rubber water pipe and pours it into a half cut can and an aluminium bucket.
After filling both the containers, he drops the pipe and with a hand gesture calls the trio while mumbling, “Waliv yuure (Come here)!”
The trio joined by two more sheep start running towards their master. Once done drinking, the old man guides all of them towards a new patch with more green and fresh grass.
While walking back towards his place, the big boy among the five starts running slowly — bumping his head onto his master’s legs.
Turning towards him with a smile, Sultan playfully slaps his playful pet, saying, “Che wonui na ye ma aas karaan. Che karai be shalakh (I’ve told you not to do this, I will punish you).”
With this remark, he holds his head between his hands and scratches his chin. The old man knows this act is a display of love and attention.
Shooing the big boy towards the flock, under the shadow of wooden bridge, Sultan remembers the day when he used to spend months in Dal and Nigeen Lakes.
“There was a time when we would spend months at different locations, but now we are stuck at a particular place,” the old man says.
“Bridging the roads over Jhelum and gatekeeping the water has locked our lives.”
However, before drowning deep in the memory lane, the sniffing of hands by his big boy wakes him up. And instead of narrating the beholding thoughts, he scratches the forehead of his beloved.
Feeling a grim tone in conversation, the big boy once again bumps his head onto his master’s legs from backside.
The old man’s face lights up with joy, as he again questions him in a loving tone, “Kyoho rovui che (What’s the matter with you).”
Placing his hands on his pet’s fur, Sultan with a smiling face addresses him, “Raet baad kaasnavai ye jath (I will get your fur trimmed after a month).”
It was quite obvious that among all of them, the big boy is most attached to his master.
While gliding his hands in air in order to give his pet a playtime, Sultan recounts his father’s flock of sheep, hens and birds.
“My father Mohammadd Siddique owned a variety of pets,” Sultan recollects. “He used to do this because he was fond of it, and not for showoff or popularity.”
But this flashback ends with a sense of hopelessness as the pet-keeper while looking towards his flock says, “We don’t have enough space now in Srinagar to own these pets.”
The city is congested now and there is no grazing ground for these pets. The thought of congestion makes Sultan sad.
“If someone would like to keep a sheep as pet, he can’t afford it in the present scenario,” he says.
“You need to take care of them, clean them, make them exercise. One cannot raise a pet in these constricted spaces.”
With this, he again starts scratching his loved one’s nose and chin. After getting scratches, the big boy joins the flock and rests on the ground, just some steps from his master.
Although Sultan finds it difficult to walk at a fast pace or climb stairs, he forgets about all of his ailments in the company of his pets.
“Every evening I go on a walk with them,” he says, as the big boy stands up and bumps onto his legs again.
Laughing loudly at him, Sultan turns towards his pet and asked him joyfully, “Che ousukh na behith, che kyyazi wotukh waapas thoud (If you were lying on ground, why you stood up again).”
However, without him answering his question, Sultan understands that his pet wants a long walk with his master.
Still laughing about the incident, Sultan remembers another pet sheep, whose name was ‘Kaalu’.
“When I used to call him ‘Kaalu’, without thinking for a second, he would run towards me,” he remembers.
Although these pets were brought by his son who has ‘inherited’ his ‘grandfather’s traits’, it is Sultan who has become the shepherd on Bund.
After making an intimate eye contact with his big boy, Sultan, feeling the chilly breeze and warmth of love, bids a goodbye to his pets.
Walking down the stairs that leads to his houseboat, Sultan pauses for a minute before going inside.
The breeze, touching the freshly grown grass, continues to blow while the warmth of remains there. The pets looking for their master, start walking towards the gates of his house.
Amid the pedestrian gaze, lookout post and lover’s lost map, Sultan and his sheep has become another fixture of the iconic Bund.